Episcopal bishop juggles rift, ministry
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori came to Pittsburgh to talk about the love of Jesus, but knew she would face questions about property litigation and rifts in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The primate of the 2 million-member Episcopal Church made her first official visit as a guest of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, which is less than half the size it was before a 2008 split. On Tuesday in Wilkinsburg she witnessed the annual Holy Week renewal of vows by three dozen clergy, calling them to reach out to those who suffer.
She reiterated the value of reaching out to each other during a forum Tuesday evening in Trinity Cathedral, Downtown.
"We have need of everyone," she said. "We will continue to be in relationships with everyone who wants to be in relationships with us."
More than 150 people, many of them church leaders, attended the forum, which followed a short service. The bishop took questions from those in attendance, some of whom shared concern about the future of the church.
Bishop Jefferts Schori expressed optimism and confidence in the growth of "a thinking church" that embraces new voices and technologies to spread its message.
"Love God and love your neighbor as yourself," she said. "When we pay attention to the hungry people outside our doors, when we pay attention to the poverty and injustice that is around us, we soon discover that there are more important things than differences in doctrine."
One woman asked when there might be healing in the diocese.
"I see healing going on now," the bishop said. "But full healing won't come to us until the Second Coming. ... When we stay stuck in suffering, it's hard to heal."
The bishop, who is married with a daughter in the Air Force, spoke of visiting a parish filled with military families. Many faced deployment, and some bore visible wounds of war.
In that church, "I think I saw Jesus showing his wounds. ... I saw many reaching out to touch him and others still looking," she said.
"The world is hungry for the light of Christ and aching to see the love of Christ in human flesh. ... It can be painful and difficult work on the road to Calvary and carrying bodies to the tomb. But it is the way of Resurrection."
She spoke in a diocese experienced in resurrection after the painful split.
So far it has won every round of property litigation against the rival Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Under terms agreed to in court, the Episcopal diocese has begun property negotiations with Anglican parishes.
Those negotiations are directed by Pittsburghers, she said.
"It's not being run from New York. I would remind you that this legal business happened before Bob Duncan and some others decided to leave the Episcopal Church. It was led by Episcopalians in this diocese. ... We didn't join it until later."
Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is the primate of the 100,000-member Anglican Church in North America. It is not a province of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, though it is seeking such recognition.
The court case in Pittsburgh "is governing the way the negotiations are happening in this diocese," she said.
That said, she has put forth two principles that she believes should guide negotiations.
One is to ensure that gifts given for the Episcopal Church "not be inappropriately disposed of. We have to recover some approximation of fair market value," she said.
The second "is that we shouldn't be in the business of setting up competing ecclesiastical interests with Episcopal Church resources."
She can't simply tell former Episcopalians to keep the property because it would violate her responsibility to guard the inheritance of the church that she leads, she said.
"The buildings and the bank accounts are the legacy of generations before us. I don't have the right to give those away for other purposes. My fiduciary responsibility, my moral responsibility, is to see that those gifts are used for the ministry to which God calls us in the Episcopal Church. I can't give it away to the Methodists or the Orthodox Church or a Jewish synagogue," she said.
Elected to a nine-year term in 2006, she remains the only woman among 38 primates of the Anglican Communion. The rifts within her province have had aftershocks in some of the 37 others.
Her belief that the Bible's condemnation of gay sex is a cultural relic was seen as rejection of biblical authority by many Anglicans in the global South.
Last year, representatives of the Episcopal Church were removed from the worldwide communion's committees on doctrine and ecumenism.
Soon afterward the office of the archbishop of Canterbury asked her not to wear her miter -- the hat symbolizing her office -- when she preached in a London cathedral. She carried it down the aisle.
"The anxiety about women bishops in England right now is stunning in some parts," she said
"My attitude in that occasion was, 'How can I be who I am and not put the dean of the cathedral in an awkward position?' So I chose to carry my miter rather than wear it."
Asked if she thought Archbishop Williams had been fair to the Episcopal Church, she said, "I don't know. Again, I think he is in a very awkward position himself."
Archbishop Williams is said to personally accept same-sex relationships and gay ordination, but has set that position aside to keep the communion from fracturing.
She believes that the Episcopal Church has a bright future, and can reverse the loss of more than a third of its membership since 1960.
New research shows three kinds of people who are attracted to the Episcopal Church, she said.
They include Hispanic women, women in major life transitions and young adults. They like the fact that the church doesn't have a lot of rules, encourages questions and values women in leadership, she said.
On websites such as ivillage and UrbanBaby, "people in the wider community are talking about the church they've discovered ... and the way in which it is helping them to be more effective human beings," she said. "We have a very ripe mission field around us, if we can pay attention to it."
First Published April 20, 2011 12:00 am